State hires 21 despite hiring freeze

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

State government in the past seven months has hired 21 new employees despite an ongoing hiring freeze, state personnel records show.

The records obtained by the Santa Fe New Mexican under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act show that three people were added to the payroll at the Spaceport, while several medical-related personnel were hired at various facilities and a trio of transportation inspectors found jobs at the Department of Public Safety.

Others got administrative or clerical work at the Department of Workforce Solutions and the Department of Health.

All the jobs required letters explaining why the hires are needed, and forms attached to the hiring documents for each employee have “critical business need” checked as the reason the department was applying for the exception to the freeze.

All of the exception requests required approval from the Department of Finance and Administration and the State Personnel Office.

It’s unclear from the records if any of the people were transferring from other state government positions, or if they are new hires from outside government.

The hires are from July 1, 2009, through Dec. 22.

Since the hiring freeze took effect in mid-November 2008 and July 1, 2009, 41 exempt employees and 315 classified employees were hired, government officials have said.

Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the hiring halt as part of a plan to help the state save cash. At the time, he also imposed pay freezes, reduced government overtime and travel, and told agencies to cut back on contracts and computer equipment, among other things.

Lawmakers have complained about all the non-critical exceptions that have been granted since the freeze began.

Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, has a measure (SB 215) this session that would only allow the state to hire for positions related to health or safety, or jobs that deal with generating revenue for the state.

She says the freeze has been met with a “wink or nod” by too many departments and hasn’t been effective at reducing payroll costs.

Her measure also specifically prohibits hiring for clerical or administrative jobs, unless the appointment is made to fill a job that was vacated within the previous 90 days.

In addition, the bill also prohibits exempt employees from being transferred into other positions during the hiring freeze, unless the transfer is “critical to health, safety or state-revenue-generation activities.” Transfers from one job classification to another tend to get more frequent as a governor nears the end of a term.

Between Richardson’s announcement of the freeze in mid-October 2008 and a month later when it took effect, the state added 413 classified and eight exempt employees, a spokeswoman said at the time.

One employee, a training and development specialist at the State Personnel Office who makes $22 an hour, started one day before the freeze began, records show.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.